Fairbanks is a very small town, maybe 40,000 people, but it’s the biggest town in the interior and has quite a bit going on, relatively speaking. Trivia: the Alaskan “interior” (non-coastal region) is larger than the entire state of Texas! First, I’ll sadly admit that I didn’t see any moose, which was a mixed blessing. I was glad to not encounter one on the highway and risk a car accident, but I would’ve enjoyed seeing one none the less.
On the bright side, I did get to see the aurora borealis (the northern lights)! I’d never seen them before and was crossing my fingers I’d get the chance! The space forecast is strong this year and this time of the year, but sadly if it’s overcast you can’t see them. I was treated to multiple days of snow in both Fairbanks and Anchorage, but the sky did clear two nights in Fairbanks and I was able to see a modest aurora both nights! Hooray! Photos will be posted later… promise!
Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center
101 Dunkel Street, Fairbanks
Open year round!
Don’t let the words “visitors center” fool you. While they do have a small area for brochures for local companies, they have a very large, impressive, and free museum and cultural center! “In addition to trip planning services, there is a theatre showing free films and programs on Alaska’s natural, cultural and visitor history and an exhibit hall featuring 9,000 square feet of museum-quality interpretive displays and dioramas depicting Interior Alaskan landscapes and seasons. The center also offers an artisans’ workshop and demonstration area, an Elders gathering area, cultural and environmental education classrooms, outdoor recreational space, and an Alaska Geographic gift store.”
Also important to note – they’re open 7 days a week year-round, 363 days a year (closed Xmas and Thanksgiving). This is impressive and noteworthy as many “tourist” attractions in Alaska close from Sept-April… it’s not easy to find open museums when the weather is -20F and the tourists have all returned home.
University of Alaska Museum of the North
PO Box 756960, Fairbanks, AK 99775
This museum is located on the top of a hill on the university campus, overlooking the city. It’s a choice location, a beautiful building, and a large collection of rooms and exhibits. Sadly, it closes at 5pm, so I only had 45 minutes to go over my lunch break, but even that period of time was a good intro to the history and culture… native, Russian, European, Spanish, and more. Will need to go back for longer if I get a future Fairbanks trip in my future.
Springhill Suites by Marriott
575 1st Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99701
This was a gorgeous hotel, seriously stylish and comfy rooms, with nice views overlooking town and the river. Hotel also has free breakfast, fresh baked cookies, a fancy restaurant, fireplace and sitting area, pool, fitness center, etc. Pretty impressive for a small town.
Loose Moose Cafe
3450 Airport Way, Fairbanks
Has huge burgers made from buffalo, beef, or caribou meat (and hotdogs made of pork or reindeer!). It seems like it’d be touristy with a menu like that, but it’s so not touristy. It’s more low budget/dive in a red and yellow hasn’t been decorated since the 1960s with creepy circus and clown decor theme. That said, my sweet potato fries ($2.50) were perfect and my caribou burger ($8.75) was tasty. Frozen meat is also for sale should you need to take home some buffalo, reindeer, or caribou sausage. I brought home some reindeer and caribou jerky to share with the housemates. Mmmm…
Sam’s Sourdough Cafe
3702 Cameron Street Fairbanks, AK 99709
The travelers at the hostel recommended this diner for the most amazing breakfast ever. They loved the sourdough pancakes, reindeer sausage, and biscuits and gravy. Breakfast and lunch are apparently packed with long lines, so I went for dinner when it was easy to get a table. (I did order a side of sourdough pancakes so I could sample a bite. I found them unusual but enjoyable (they were indeed sourdough – definitely not your sweet, standard pancake). You can get reindeer and eggs for $11 or chicken fried steak for $11, and a whole host of breakfast or dinner entrees. I went twice for breakfast foods – once because it was near the book store and the other time because it was the closest place to the museum. While the food was decent, the patrons seated to the sides of my table on both trips were consistently ignorant (with many uninformed comments, some racist comments, and some comments about how women shouldn’t be given the right to vote. Yikes.) Staff were consistently polite, so I’m hoping it was just bad luck/bad timing and that the establishment doesn’t actively seek out such a crowd. It was hard to hold my tongue, but didn’t think lashing out at strangers would be an effective model for education. If that crowd was always there, I probably wouldn’t be able to eat there… I’d just get too agitated.
3525 College Road Fairbanks, AK 99709
This place came highly recommended by the travelers in the hostel… guess it’s kind of the Powell’s Books of the north but much smaller. I’d tried to order a book from Amazon Prime to ship to my hotel in Anchorage, and found that Prime in Alaska can mean 7 days free shipping (not 1-2 day free shipping). Turns out this little store was perfect and had the exact book in stock (a Seattle author on natural child birth that my sister in law recommended). Local, independent business to the rescue!
This place reminded me of the Latona Pub or Elysian. I didn’t sample any local beers, but their Southwest chicken salad ($12) filled my craving for a gluten free meal with lots of veggies.
Billies backpackers hostel in Fairbanks
This small, simple hostel had $30 dorm beds and a genuinely friendly international crowd. It had room for maybe 10-15 people max, mostly in bunk beds. There were PhD students working at nearby Univ of Alaska Fairbanks, travelers from around Europe, a guy from Japan who comes every year to hunt for the northern lights, and a very sweet local who I wanted to hug within minutes of meeting him. Thanks to the guy from Japan and his studying the weather patterns, I was alerted to the aurora and got to see it last night once the snow stopped! Amazing! My checklist for Alaska (hot springs and northern lights) is now complete! Ah, simple pleasures!
Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska
The town of North Pole is decked out as a Christmas wonderland year round with candy cane light posts, businesses with Christmas themed buildings, and streets named things like Santa Claus Lane, St. Nicholas Drive, Snowman Lane, and Kris Kringle Drive. The Santa Claus House has been around since 1952, has all of the North Pole gifts you could ever need, has live reindeer out back, and the world’s biggest Santa. With a kitchy tourist trap like that, how could I resist at least driving through town, greeting the reindeer, and getting a photo in Santa’s sleigh?
Hot Licks Homemade Ice Cream
372 Old Chena Pump Road, Fairbanks, AK
Local, small batch ice cream from Fairbanks. Gay, black, liberal staff with homemade ice cream made my week. :)
388 Old Chena Pump Road
Fairbanks, AK 99709
Alaska has lots of Thai places all over, it seems, and this one was a lucky find. The owners were friendly and they had many longtime/regular customers there whose kids they knew by sight or name. They had traditional Thai dishes as well as many dishes from the north like Kao Soi ($13) – noodles that are everywhere in Chaing Mai but much harder to find in Seattle. Yum (and spicy!)!
338 Old Steese Highway
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Not much for ambiance, but they had tasty basil chicken for $9.95.
244 Illinois St
Fairbanks, AK 99701
Simple, classic, old school diner. Tasty turkey melt for $7.95. Yes, I ate some gluten as sandwiches seemed to be the only option for lunch. Happily, a little bit doesn’t destroy me.